Cuban Poster Art

This entry will focus on the ‘Golden age’ of Cuban poster art that followed after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 19591. The exact dates of the ‘golden age’ vary slightly from scholar to scholar, but for this glossary entry Lincoln Cushing’s date range will be used, as he is a leading expert in the field. This range is from the beginning of the 1960s, through the 1980s2. Cuban poster art united the Cuban people, widely celebrated Cuban culture, and contributed significantly to the project of constructing a new Cuban society2.

The majority of the posters in the ‘Golden Age’ were produced through offset printing methods, although Silkscreen printing was also quite popular, and sometimes mixed media methods were used2. The dimensions and height to width ratios of the posters were not standardized. However, the posters were almost always vertically oriented and the heights usually ranged between 50-75cm, while the widths generally ranged between 30-50cm2. Stylistically, illustration and graphic design were very prominent in the posters, including the use of bold fonts, flat sections of colour and dynamic compositions2. A good example of this is José Papiol’s poster ‘Clear the Way for Sugar from the Mill’ from 1972. The influence of Pop art and Polish poster art can also be seen throughout the posters3. Some other stylistic features include, but were not limited to, satire and subtle wit, iconography, appropriation, and conceptual abstraction (which refers to the act of creating simple images out of complex and abstract concepts like anti-imperialism)2.

In order to talk about Cuban poster art, or any art movement in an educated manner, it is critical to know where it’s situated within a historical and political context. In Cuba, Batista was overthrown and Fidel Castro was brought to power in 1959 as a result of the Cuban Revolution 1. In 1961 Castro pledged himself to Marxist-Leninist communism3. After 1959, Cuba’s relations with the Soviet Union were expanding, while their relations with the U.S. were deteriorating, cumulating to the point where a substantial trade embargo was introduced in the early 1960s3. Through all of these events the Cuban people yearned for a better life and were hopeful that the new Castro leadership would bring that to them2. This thought was well represented through the poster art that they produced in this era.

This new political leadership was very supportive of culture and ultimately led to a rejuvenation of the arts in Cuba, which included printing and print-making3. The state recognized both artists and their work as socially important and thus functioned as a patron, buying and commissioning their posters, and allowing them to flourish4. The total number of state sponsored public posters were around 10,000 in total2. Although creating poster art this way provided only a modest income for the artists, it freed them from needing to produce art to suit commercial buyers, and instead allowed them to focus on creating art to promote Cuban culture and unite the nation4, 2.

This government support of posters in Cuba allowed them to become very unique compared to posters in other countries. For example, although they shared some decorative styles with posters in the U.S., they were much less involved with consumer society, commodification, and advertisements5. Cuban posters also differed a lot from posters created in Soviet Russia and China5. In Soviet Russia and China the poster artists had strict limitations on what they could produce and the designs they could use, in order to control how the posters were interpreted. On the contrary, Cuban artists at this time had a lot more freedom to create the posters the way they wanted to5. The artist’s freedom of expression allowed the posters to deviate away from becoming a form of one-dimensional political propaganda or advertisements, and instead enabled them to become a more truthful reflection of Cuban culture and society at this moment in history6.

Cuban poster art was influential in many areas of Cuban life. These areas can be divided into four broad categories: sports and health, revolution and national pride, agriculture and resources, and education and culture. This paper will highlight at least one way the posters influenced and/or participated in each one of these areas of Cuban life, and give an example. For sports and health, Cuba’s government used posters to promote sporting events to encourage the masses to become interested and involved in physical activity. This was for the simple justification that involvement with physical activity adds to a population’s healthy well-being2. A good example of this is Eduardo Murin Portrille’s ‘To Practice Sports is to Grow Healthy’ from 1973.

In terms of revolution and national pride, the revolutionary artist played an important role in adding to the heroic stature of leaders such as Che Guevara and Castro4. An example of this is Roberto Figueredo’s ‘The Bravest, the Most Productive, the Most Extraordinary of Our Fighters – Fidel Castro’ 1977 poster2. These posters created solidarity among the citizens that helped to form a national identity based around their common beliefs. Often times they also communicated that the common person was a fundamental part of the revolution by simply having the same united nationalist pride4.

Agriculture is a very large proportion of Cuba’s economy, with sugar cane and tobacco being the main crops2. During the ‘Golden Age’ of poster art, the government had set high quotas for the amount of sugar they wanted to be produced and would sponsor posters to encourage farmers to work hard to reach that quota2. An example of this is José Papiol’s poster ‘Clear the Way for Sugar from the Mill’ from 1972.

One reason the socialist Cuban government desired an educated population, and thus promoted education through posters, was to have a defense against foreign capitalist influences2. The state also supported posters that promoted many different kinds of cultural events and phenomena, like various music festivals, art exhibitions, and film, which was particularly successful in the ‘Golden Age.’ These film posters went against the Hollywood star system of emphasis on the specific actors, and instead focused on the main themes of the movies. In addition to this, they were not only made to support Cuban film, but foreign films would have Cuban posters created for them as well1. An example of this is ‘The Lovers of Hiroshima’ by Eduardo Muñoz Bachs in 1969.

We’ve examined of the ‘Golden Age’ of Cuban poster art, including the formal aspects, state involvement, and how it was influential to certain aspects of Cuban life. Posters in Cuba are a reflection of, and inspiration for, the construction of an enhanced Cuban society2.

Heather MacRae

 

Works Cited

1 Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Cuba: Art and History From 1868 to Today. Montreal: Prestel, 2003.

2 Cuching, Lincoln. Revolucion! Cuban Poster Art. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003.

Sullivan, Edward J. Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1996.

Goodfriend, Pennelope. “A Visual Legacy: Art Reflects Life in Cuba.” World and I. 17 (2002): 196.

Barnicoat, John. A Concise History of Posters. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972.

Carstens, Rosemary. “The Art of the Poster.” Hispanic. 19.8 (2006): 74-75.

Above referenced images are reproduced in Lincoln Cuching. Revolucion! Cuban Poster Art. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003.

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